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FPPE Program Information

Filter Plant Performance Evaluation Program Information


Importance of Public Drinking Water

The Filter Plant Performance Evaluation (FPPE) Program is an integral part of Pennsylvania's Safe Drinking Water Program. Before discussing the details of an FPPE, its important to understand some key points about drinking water.

Drinking water plays a vital role in the everyday life of Pennsylvanians. The availability of safe public drinking water plays a critical role in the state's economic engine. Factories, food processors, restaurants, and many other businesses depend on clean, safe drinking water. Click here (PDF) to read a short historical perspective on the value of public drinking water.

Here's a few historical facts about drinking water in Pennsylvania:

  • With more than 10,000 systems, Pennsylvania has the fourth highest number of public water systems in the nation.
  • The number of nationally regulated contaminants has increased from 22 in 1975 to the current level of 91, presenting a compliance challenge to many Pennsylvania water systems. Click here for information on regulations affecting surface water suppliers.
  • From 1971 to 1985, Pennsylvania reported more waterborne disease outbreaks that were related to drinking water than any other state in the nation. By contrast, according to a federal report, waterborne disease outbreaks associated with public drinking water systems are currently low in Pennsylvania. Read Waterborne Diseases Remain All-Time Low in Pennsylvania for more details on outbreak trends.
  • The number of public water systems using unfiltered surface water sources in Pennsylvania decreased from 277 in 1985 to 33 systems currently. In most cases, these water systems used disinfection as the only form of treatment and did not filter the water. DEP is continuously working with these water systems that are using unfiltered surface and GUDI sources by having them either abandon their unfiltered sources or install filtration. Click here for details on how water systems abandoned their unfiltered sources.
  • Pennsylvania's surface water treatment plants increased from 204 (1988) to the current level of 355 plants, which together serve millions of residents and out-of-state visitors. No doubt, this revolutionary investment in water system facilities has enhanced the safety of drinking water. Our exposure to organisms resistant to disinfection, like Giardia and Cryptosporidium (PDF), is much more limited.
  • Today, Pennsylvania's community of surface water treatment plants provides water to more than eight million people. That's nearly 70 percent of the state's residents!

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has invested in programs such as FPPE and the partnership to protect Pennsylvanians from waterborne diseases and, more recently, disinfection byproducts. Both programs focus on drinking water suppliers that operate and maintain filter plants using surface water sources. Since the mid-1990's, the Allegheny County Health Department has taken the lead on FPPEs within the county, but DEP continues to have the lead in all other counties in the state. These programs are important to Pennsylvanians and the state's surface water suppliers for the following reasons:

  • Population Impact: Eight million people and numerous tourists receive some or all of their drinking water from the commonwealth's filter plants.
  • Disease Prevention: A treatment breakdown at a filter plant presents a widespread acute health threat from a waterborne disease outbreak. A disease outbreak can have a devastating impact on a community. Disease prevention saves lives and millions of dollars in expenses that businesses, homeowners, local government and state government would incur in response to an outbreak.
  • Economy and Essential Services: The availability of safe public drinking water plays a critical role in the state's economic engine. Filter plants serve drinking water to large metropolitan areas and small rural communities and thus are a vital part of local infrastructure; they represent an essential service to factories, food processors, restaurants, and many other businesses; and they provide basic fire protection for homeowners and businesses.
  • Regulatory and Technical Complexities: Filter plants are affected by some of the most complex regulations and involve complicated treatment processes. The FPPE and Partnership programs help suppliers in overcoming numerous on-going compliance challenges.
  • Infrastructure Improvements: FPPEs have been a long-standing part of the ranking process for Pennsylvania's low-interest loan program called PENNVEST.

Microscopic particulate and protozoa analysis of the facility's raw and filtered water for later microscopic evaluation in the Department of Environmental Protection's laboratory.

Techniques for Filter Plant Performance Evaluation

The FPPE process is a method of determining the effectiveness of a water treatment plant in removing disease-causing organisms from the incoming raw water. The program also helps to ensure that public water systems are correctly monitoring water quality information as well as helping to reduce violations. The evaluation process combines an on-site survey of filter plant operations, equipment and water quality conditions. Additionally, the process includes one or more of the following complex, specialized equipment and techniques to assess plant performance:

  • Continuous, on-line particle count profiles from an individual filter;
  • Continuous, on-line turbidity profiles from an individual filter;
  • Filter media analysis;
  • Detailed filter inspections and backwash assessments;
  • Water quality analysis with portable equipment;
  • Zeta meter demonstration; and 
  • All of these services may not be available during every FPPE. If water system staff are interested in any of these items in particular, they may contact a department staff member who performs FPPE in advance.

Although FPPEs capture a "snapshot" of filter plant performance, they also entail review of monitoring records to gain a long-term picture. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states conducting these types of extensive filter plant evaluations.


Filter Plant Performance Evaluation Trends

View a statewide summary report that contains information on the benefits and outcomes of the FPPE program.


Optimization Goals

Optimization goals are another tool used by the FPPE team to assess the performance at surface water treatment plants. Filter plant staff should, at all times, strive to meet the goals listed below. However, the FPPE staff recognize that perfection is not always possible, and plants meeting these goals 95 percent of the time can be considered optimized if no other major operational or equipment problems exist. In addition, FPPE staff take into consideration the water supplier's past corrections and action plans that plant staff develop to solve performance problems.

The most recent twelve months of raw, settled, and finished turbidity data is evaluated using the following optimization goals as a yardstick. When evaluating a system's performance, greater emphasis is given to annual turbidity data from plants that are challenged with rapidly changing raw water turbidities. However, for plants that are not challenged with rapidly changing raw water conditions, more emphasis is placed on operator preparedness and complacency.

Process Optimization Goal
Sedimentation 

Evaluate the 95% of daily maximum readings for the most recent twelve months.  Daily maximum data points should be chosen from 4-hour readings.
  • Continuous, stable performance regardless of variations in raw water quality.
  • Effluent turbidity < 1 NTU, if annual average of daily maximum raw is <10 NTU (chosen from 4 hour readings) 
  • Effluent turbidity < 2 NTU, if annual average of daily maximum raw is >10 NTU (chosen from 4 hour readings)
Filtration 

Evaluate the 95% of daily maximum readings for the most recent twelve months.  Daily maximum data points should be chosen from 4-hour readings. 
  • Continuous, stable performance regardless of variations in raw and settled water quality.
  • Maximum daily effluent turbidity < 0.10 NTU
Filtration Backwash Recovery 

Evaluate individual filter profiles. 

Time period should bracket backwash at normal filter run time.
  • With filter-to-waste capability: Return to service when turbidity < 0.10 NTU 
    (A healthy filter should recover to < 0.10 NTU within 15 minutes following a backwash with no spikes >0.30 NTU during the filter-to-waste period)
  • Without filter-to-waste capability: Maximum turbidity spike of <0.30 NTU and recover to < 0.10 NTU within 15 minutes

FPPE Rating System


FPPE staff use the following categories to rate each plant. The ratings are based on the plant's ability and operators' skill level to maintain optimal performance over the long-term. Please note that while FPPEs may discover major treatment problems or identify and record violations of regulations, the rating system is not based on regulatory compliance. Click here to access the full FPPE protocol.

"Commendable"

Department staff have identified only minor operational, equipment, and/or performance problems that affect the plant's ability to maintain optimized performance. Plant personnel have already taken steps to improve overall filter plant performance and maintain the long-term reliability of the plant.
"Satisfactory"

Department staff have identified operational, equipment, and/or performance problems that may affect the plant's ability to maintain optimized performance. Plant personnel appear willing and capable of improving overall filter plant performance. However, one or more of the treatment processes showed areas of weakness in operational, equipment, and/or performance that, if corrected, will improve filter plant performance and maintain the long-term reliability of the plant.
"Needs Improvement"

Department staff have identified considerable operational, equipment, and/or performance problems that are affecting the plant's ability to maintain optimized performance. Limitations are apparent that hinder improvement of overall filter plant performance. Areas of weakness affect the capability and dependability of the plant in providing consumers with an adequate level of protection against waterborne pathogens.

More Information

Click here to contact the Department of Environmental Protection about the Filter Plant Performance Evaluation program in each area of Pennsylvania.

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